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Bookmonger: Body count rises in Margolin’s latest thriller

“Violent Crimes” by Phillip Margolin

Portland lawyer-turned-novelist Phillip Margolin brings back one of his tried-and-true protagonists, defense attorney Amanda Jaffe, for a fifth appearance in his new book, “Violent Crimes.”

In this story, Amanda gets a visit from somebody she has known since law school, tax attorney Christine Larson. Christine is partner at the law firm of Masterson, Hamilton, where she works with Tom Beatty, a diligent paralegal and former Navy SEAL who suffers from PTSD.

Tom got involved in a scrape at a local bar and has been charged with assault for the damage he did to the fellow who picked a fight with him. But Christine vouches for Tom’s character and asks Amanda to represent him in court. Amanda agrees to take the case.

With her firm’s investigator, Kate Ross, Amanda looks into things and makes quick work of getting the charges against Tom dismissed.

Only a few days later, however, police get a tip from an informant and get a warrant to search Tom’s house for heroin. They find not only the drugs, but also Christine’s brutally beaten corpse. Tom is apprehended a second time — this time for murder. And once again Amanda is called in to help Tom, who claims he has been framed.

As Amanda and Kate begin to investigate, they learn that law firm founding partners Dale Masterson and Mark Hamilton may have engaged in some questionable business practices in order to bring in a recent major client. They believe that Christine may have caught on to this, which could point to other possible suspects in her murder case.

Then when the woman who “informed” on Tom also is found dead, the case against him begins to unravel. The judge lets him out on bail.

But when Tom returns home, his commando training helps him to sense that something is amiss. He discovers a home invasion underway — or is it something more than that? He uses the skills he learned in his hand-to-hand combat training to dispatch with the invaders, and then he disappears.

But this is only the beginning of the corpse count.

Margolin delivers not only plenty of violent crimes, as promised by the title, but also a complex web of evidence, red herrings, conflicts of interest, unethical practices, and abhorrent behaviors.

The author certainly knows how to put together a courtroom procedural, but he has an annoying way of allowing certain key pieces of the fact-finding quest to happen off the page. Instead, he springs things on the reader as a surprise once court is back in session. This technique works better in the movies — in a book, we are much more privy to the characters’ inner thoughts, necessitating that the author be very sophisticated in choosing when and how to divulge or conceal plot points.

Another area for improvement: Although this is the fifth book Amanda has appeared in, she’s still fairly one-dimensional. By this point in the series, we should know more about what really makes this lady tick.

The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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